JACKSONVILLE, N.C. — On the wall over her bunk in Kuwait, Marine Cpl. Nivia Huskey proudly displays a collection of sonogram printouts of the baby boy her pregnant spouse is carrying back home in North Carolina. If all goes as planned, the 28-year-old military policewoman will return to Camp Lejeune in time for a January delivery at an on-base hospital.
But the space on the baby’s birth certificate marked “Father” will be left blank.
Though her wedding in Washington, D.C., to Jessica Painter Huskey is recognized by the federal government, including the military, Cpl. Huskey is assigned to a battalion based in North Carolina, where state law bans same-sex marriage. She is barred from legally adopting her spouse’s biological child, and will have no legal recognition as a parent.
Last year’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act ensured that federal military benefits extend to same-sex partners and their children.
But about two-thirds of active-duty personnel in the U.S. are based in states that don’t recognize gay marriages, leaving thousands of military families missing out on legal rights they would enjoy if Uncle Sam had stationed them elsewhere.
At their home near Edwards Air Force Base north of Los Angeles, Lt. Col. Ivan Acosta and his husband George Guthrie enjoy the benefits of living in a state that recognizes their relationship. In April 2013, they jointly adopted a baby girl named Emma. Both men are listed as parents on their daughter’s passport and birth certificate.
“That is definitely why we would want to stay in California,” said Acosta, a 39-year-old aerospace engineer. “It’s something that we have to think about that most straight couples do not have to think about.”
Same-sex marriage is legal in 19 states and the District of Columbia. Challenges in other states continue to make their way through the courts, many of them successfully.
A three-judge federal appeals panel recently upheld a lower court ruling striking down Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban, a legal precedent considered binding on a judge currently considering the constitutionality of North Carolina’s very similar prohibition.
The Virginia ruling, like similar cases in a slew of states, remains on hold and appears headed to the U.S. Supreme Court.